Minsk – Refuge of Socialist Modernism

Belarus unclenches itself towards the rest of Europe and welcomes meanwhile visitors, landing at the Minsk International Airport, with a visa on arrival. Beside a typical Soviet style metro inviting me to continue my European subway photo project, Minsk boasts with an urban architecture telling from pre- as well as post-war Socialist times, the so called Socialist modernism.

A Belarussian morning

On a young April morning last shreds of early morning mist waft among the typical plattenbau buildings of Soviet post-war era, that are the notorious industrialised concrete slab apartment blocks. However, the weather is clear, sunny, yet a little cold making the streets even emptier as they are as half of Minsk is still in bed on this Sunday morning, hence I can see one of the highlights of the Belarussian capital postmodern Socialst architecture without people: that is the mighty relief “Solidarity” by Anatol Arcimowicz. The Communist bronze sculpture graces and dominates the facade of former Soviet Dom Mody (Дом моды), the House of Fashion where on the ground floor the first Capitalist Kentucky-fried Chicken of the day go over the counter. What a contrast…

The early morning is also perfect to capture the metro without people. Minsk has only two lines, meaning that there is always someone with you on the train. The mass of people in particular becomes apparent at current one and only interchange station between Kastrynickaja and Kupalaskaja. But this morning those stations look abandoned and I can capture the whole Minsk Metro to include it in my European subway photo project.

Due and thanks to a deserted looking subway I make quite some progress in capturing the Minsk Metro, also because once again a Soviet style metro runs in a fast 3 minute cycle instead of 10, even on weekends. I meet Dima who I got to know back in Berlin. Actually he’s living in Mahilyow, a town being a 3 hour car drive away, but Dima’s taking that upon himself to cultivate acquaintanceships. The Belarussian youth is hungry to make contact with the “Golden West” and shows interest as well as frankness wherever one meets them. Also the elder are everything but grumpy, something’s that a little typical for Slavs ;-)

Together with Dima I stroll through the city. He shows me the few classically looking buildings but also the countless examples exposing Socialist modernism architecture as well as Stalin’s very own gingerbread style. The view of north-eastern Minsk from the Belarus Hotel observation deck reveals what locals only call “Soviet brutalism” as one plattenbau literally shakes hands with the next one. Minsk was hit pretty severe by World War 2nd and the few remaining intact buildings got often demolished by the Soviets loyal to their philosophy that “something wonderful new can only arise if the old get completely demolished.”

Good Bye & Hello, Lenin!

Photographically seen the buildings showing a relation to Soviet times are most interesting as murals, sculptures and inscriptions are the story tellers making the difference to the rest and also the west of the world. Yes, the western (Capitalist) system wasn’t any better when it comes to architecture sins and visual offences. One only has to witness the Dortmund main station or working-class districts of West German cities like Salzgitter. Well, then the east is ahead the west as Minsk is a functional and working city being to boot very clean.

Our stroll through the city leads along Prospekt Nezavisimosti towards Independence Square, where the Belarusian State Pedagogical University “Maxim Tank” can be found. A large statue in front of the neighbouring parliament building is evidence that back in Soviet times the square was named after Communism’s mentor Lenin. Not far away from that sculpture the Minsk central station is located. From the main terminal building one can watch through the gate being formed by two gingerbread style towers like they can be found along Kiev’s Khreshchatyk, the Berlin Karl-Marx-Allee and of course in Moscow, where seven sisters dominate the cityscape.

Minsk was built at the banks of Svislach River. Following the course of that stream one doesn’t only meet the green heart of the city, when walking though Gorky as well as Yanka Kupala Park, but also get in touch with the central subject of (Bela-) Russian identity, that is the commemoration of the Great Patriotic War – or World War II how we call it – from what the Island of Tears, the Victory Park and the Great Patriotic War Museum, to name only a few, give evidence. Built at the river was also Hotel Belarus with its observation deck.

At the northern end of Svislach River, where the second road ring meets the Workers’ Boulevard, a giant flagpole rises to heaven high. It is neighbouring with recently built Independence Palace, that’s reflecting the dark thunderstorm clouds having just approached with windows. The visual axis between the palace and State Flag Square accommodates the pentagonal Belarussian expo building, where on its forecourt skateboarders meet to practise their jumps in the rhythm of flagpoles clattering in the wind.

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